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CRITERIA FOR SUPERIOR REPORTING The State Department View C H A P T E R S E V E N 61 T he director general of the Foreign Service annually gives an award generally known in the State Department as the political reporting award. Its current formal title is the Director General’s Award for Originality and Creativity in Reporting. In an average year, perhaps two dozen nominations are submitted. Normally, only one person receives the award, although occasionally two winners have been named. The recipient survives two exacting peer reviews. The first takes place at his diplomatic post, where his superiors must decide that the quality of his work merits a nomination and, further, that it stands out sufficiently from the work of his colleagues at the post that he should be singled out with the nomination. The latter hurdle may be higher than the former. The second peer review occurs when his work is compared by the award committee with that of the other nominees. This seems as objective a place as one can readily find to look for the criteria that the State Department considers important in political analysis. The information below comes primarily from the State Department’s monthly magazine, State, supplemented by responses from several recipients of the award to a questionnaire. I had hoped when I began the research for this book in 2007 to review some of the original, unclassified nomination documents, but the director general’s office declined to make them available , advised me to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain them, and then informed me that it had destroyed the very documents it had told me to file the Freedom of Information Act request to obtain. Franz Kafka, or perhaps Joseph Heller, could no doubt better explain than I can why a bureaucracy would go to such devious lengths to ensure that its more admirable work be hidden from the public eye.1 62 ———— THE CRAFT OF POLITICAL ANALYSIS FOR DIPLOMATS GEOGRAPHIC FACTORS State magazine provided information on twenty award winners for the period 1984– 2007.2 Some areas of the world were far more likely to produce winners than others. Reporting officers from sub-Saharan Africa and South America each received one award; by contrast, those from the Middle East received eight, or 40 percent of the total awards. One might suppose that this disparity arises from the fact that the Middle East is a perennial point of tension in the world and regularly on the front pages of major newspapers . This may have played some role but not a conclusive one. Although this period included the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic and political reform process in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, only one reporting officer from this region received the award, a nominee from Moscow in 1996. No region of the world, except for the Middle East, produced more than three award winners during this period. I suspect that three factors produced the tilt toward Middle Eastern awardees during this period. The first is the previously mentioned prominence of Middle Eastern issues combined with the political complexity of the domestic and international issues involved. Second, the region may attract more than its share of the more talented Foreign Service officers. In fact, during my tenure at State, the Bureau for Middle Eastern Affairs had the “corridor reputation” of consistently being at or near the top of the department ’s bureaucracy in terms of management and talent. Finally, success may beget success. Supervisors in the region, conscious of previous award success, may be far more likely to nominate talented political officers than supervisors in other areas of the world. THE CRITERIA An article in State magazine in 1987 listed the following criteria for exemplary reporting: • Sources • Organization • Relevance • Analytic and interpretive content • Overall usefulness3 A careful review of the State articles summarizing the criteria cited by the awards committee for the winners’ selection indicated some overlap with the criteria above and some differences. In descending order of frequency, the committee cited: CRITERIA FOR SUPERIOR REPORTING: THE STATE DEPARTMENT VIEW ———— 63 • Usefulness (twenty-five mentions) • Analytic and interpretive content (thirteen mentions) • Sources and contacts (eleven mentions) • Style (ten mentions) • Cultural and linguistic skills (four mentions) • Groundbreaking content (four mentions) An obvious question arises. How are the criteria defined and distinguished from one another, either in the 1987 article or in the award citations? In fact, they are...


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